Electric-assist bicycles, or e-bikes, are hot right now. They’re like regular bicycles, but more fun: a small electric motor kicks in when you pedal, providing an extra boost to your efforts. They’re also a natural crossover point between bicycles and motorcycles, which is why we’re starting to see some familiar names — Yamaha, BMW, KTM and Kawasaki, for starters — eyeing the market, eager to take advantage of explosive e-bike growth in the face of stagnant motorcycle sales.
From the other direction, bicycle manufacturers are already ahead of the game, with nearly every major player offering its own lineup of e-bikes. This includes Giant, the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, which built its first e-bike way back in 1999 and has been perfecting the technology ever since. Giant is no stranger to our side of the two-wheeled life — it’s partnered with well-known riders like four-time 500cc Grand Prix World Champion Eddie Lawson and motocross champion and multiple-time X-Game gold medalist Travis Pastrana as brand ambassadors — and, for the first time ever, it’s exhibiting its e-bike lineup at all of the 2019-2020 Progressive International Motorcycle Shows. It’s a smart move on Giant’s part, and a fortuitous one for us.
Given e-bikes’ crossover appeal and potential to bridge the gap for beginning motorcycle riders — it’s easier to handle an electric-assist bicycle than a 400-plus-pound motorcycle — we figured the time is right to do our first Road Test Review of an e-bike. We chose the new-for-2020 Thrive E+ EX Pro, built by Giant and sold under its Liv brand (which happens to be the industry’s only major brand dedicated to female riders); a men’s version called the Fastroad E+ EX Pro is also available. This sleek machine is bicycling’s version of something like a Ducati Multistrada or BMW S 1000 XR: it’s fast — as a Class 3 e-bike its motor provides assistance up to 28 mph — it rolls on road-oriented but ready-for-anything tires, and it has built-in front and rear fenders to control rain splash and pebbles, a headlight and taillight and a rear luggage rack that’s ready to accept optional panniers. For someone looking for a first experience on (semi) powered two wheels, or who’s looking to replace a car trip or three, the Thrive and Fastroad are game changers.
The appeal of an e-bike over a standard bicycle lies chiefly in the way it opens up opportunities — you’ll get less tired, which means you can ride farther and are not a sweaty mess when you get to where you’re going, and it’s impossible to overstate how much fun it is to ride. When people ask me what it feels like, I say that it’s like a normal bicycle, but with an invisible hand gently pushing you along. Or a monstrous and perpetual tailwind that doesn’t blow dust into your eyes and never surprises you with a gusty crosswind.
The Thrive E+ EX Pro looks like a regular, modern bicycle at first glance, and cyclists amongst our readership will recognize its quality components: Shimano Tiagra shifters, GRX RX400 rear derailleur and BR-MT200 hydraulically-actuated disc brakes, and Kenda Kwick Seven.5 tires with reflective taping on the sidewalls that gives a cool “Tron” effect and increases nighttime visibility. The frame and fork are Giant’s ALUXX SL aluminum, designed specifically for female body geometry. (The Fastroad E+ EX Pro is identically equipped, but with a men’s frame.)
Providing the electric boost is a Yamaha-powered Giant SyncDrive Pro motor that generates an impressive 59 lb-ft of torque, with a 375Wh EnergyPak lithium-ion battery cleverly integrated into the downtube so as to be nearly invisible. The battery can be charged either on or off the bike via the included 6A Smart Charger, which can achieve 80% charge in just 1.4 hours and doubles as a battery maintainer for storage.
The SyncDrive Pro is Giant’s most powerful and sophisticated motor, with tunable support ratios (how much assistance the motor is giving you in each mode) up to a maximum of 170 rpm — in human, not ICE terms, that’s fast, more than two pedal revolutions per second. The brain behind this is Giant’s PedalPlus 6-sensor Smart Assist technology — think of it like the IMUs in our motorcycles that use input from various sensors to provide optimal ABS, traction control, throttle response, wheelie control, etc. The PedalPlus uses six measurements: torque (pedaling input), bike speed, pedal cadence, slope (i.e. pitch; how steep of a hill you’re climbing), acceleration/deceleration and lastly, the internal rotation and operation of the motor itself, to deliver smooth, optimum power. Response is instantaneous and fluid, a noticeable improvement even from the PowerPlus 4-equipped Giant e-mountain bike I borrowed for a Woman Rider story in 2018. It feels like riding a regular bike, but with more “oomph” and all of the grins.
Just like a motorcycle, the Thrive E+ EX Pro sports a backlit LCD instrument called RideControl EVO that displays battery charge, ride mode and speed, and switchable odometer, tripmeter, range to “empty” and cadence. It’s controlled by switchgear on the left grip, where two large arrow buttons run you through ride modes: Eco, Basic, Active, Sport and Power, plus an Auto mode that automatically selects the ideal mode using the six PedalPlus sensors, and Off. The display can be dimmed for night riding and the head/taillights turned off, and there is even a “walk mode” that propels the bike alongside you while walk — useful for pushing it up ramps or into the bed of a truck should the need arise.
Also, just like a motorcycle, the display isn’t just for riding data anymore. RideControl EVO allows the rider to connect an ANT+/Bluetooth heart rate monitor, and the system will automatically adjust pedal support to reach and maintain a desired heart rate. It also connects to your phone via Bluetooth and Giant’s RideControl app, enabling turn-by-turn on-screen directions via bike-friendly routes; allows you to tune and customize pedal support settings for each mode; and displays incoming messages, calls and emails. Lastly, the app ties into the heart rate monitor function for tracking and maximizing fitness goals and viewing post-ride stats.
Fitness is a happy byproduct of e-biking for me; I wanted to test the Thrive E+ EX Pro primarily as a commuter and errand-runner. I live in a city with numerous bike lanes and paths, and since the majority of my in-town car (or motorcycle) trips are less than five miles I was able to replace nearly all of my driving with e-biking.
Giant loaned me a set of removable panniers ($79) that snapped easily onto/off the Thrive’s rack, and each side easily held a large bag of groceries or my gym bag. The panniers have a semi-rigid structure that holds its shape and makes it easy to load/unload, and each side has a special hook-and-loop strap to hold a spare EnergyPak battery. I also used the Thrive to commute to work, leaving our 2020 Suzuki Katana tester looking rather forlorn in my garage. Commuting by e-bike obviously takes a bit longer than using a car or motorcycle, but the fresh air felt quite nice, and I quickly learned to find the balance with the bike’s power modes that gave me just a bit of exercise without walking into the office feeling sweaty.
The vast majority of my riding time was spent in Eco mode (the lowest), which in stock configuration delivers 100% of your pedal input (doubles your power), and I found it to be more than enough for cruising around mostly-flat Camarillo. When approaching a hill, I’d downshift a gear or two and bump it into the next-higher mode, grinning as the invisible hand pressed against my back to help me up the incline. Only when climbing the long, steep hill to my driveway would I use the third mode, and even then only if I was tired. In the highest two, it almost would’ve felt too easy! The SyncDrive Pro’s instantaneous power delivery meant I could launch from traffic lights with enough speed to keep up with the car next to me until we were both through the intersection, and it was nice knowing that power was there if I needed it.
Given my size, riding style and terrain, I was able to get a lot from the Thrive’s battery in terms of range. Giant claims a maximum range of about 68 miles, which is a lot of 5-mile trips for me! The nice thing about an e-bike (as opposed to an e-motorcycle) is that, as long as you can carry the charger with you (which I did, in the Thrive’s panniers), charging it is just a matter of pulling the battery, taking it inside with you and plugging it in. Alternatively, you can leave the battery installed and plug into the bike itself, as long as it’s close enough to an outlet. It’s also possible to carry extra batteries, as noted above, or to upgrade with an EnergyPak Plus to extend your range.
Everything else about the Thrive was top-notch. Shifting action through the 10 Shimano gears was smooth and positive, and the hydraulic disc brakes provided strong stopping power with just one finger on each lever without a hint of grabbiness. Fit and finish overall is outstanding, down to the satin paint finish and the smooth frame welds. It cruises at speed with stability, the wide Kenda tires helping to absorb some of the bumps transmitted through the stiff aluminum frame, and the occasional dirt or gravel road is no problem. The frame geometry and flat handlebar put me in a neutral riding position that gave me a commanding view and allowed for easy weight transfer back and forth during longer rides. The installation of an aftermarket rearview mirror into the end of the left grip was all I needed to make the Thrive E+ EX Pro a darn-near perfect urban warrior.
Don’t worry, I’m not giving up motorcycles, but I have to admit that thanks to my two weeks with the Thrive I might be developing an alternate two-wheeled addiction. It’s fun, it’s good for me (and the environment), it reduces traffic congestion, it’s a great way to crosstrain as a motorcyclist and it’s another way to enjoy two wheels. Consider me an e-bike believer.
2020 Liv Thrive E+ EX Pro/Giant Fastroad E+ EX Pro Specs
Base Price: $3,500
Website: liv-cycling.com/us/ and giant-bicycles.com/us/
Motor: SyncDrive Pro (built by Yamaha)
Battery: EnergyPak 375, 36V lithium-ion
Sensors: PedalPlus 6
Display: RideControl EVO, remote button
Charger: EnergyPak 6A Fast Charger
Handlebar: Giant Connect XC Riser 31.8 x 640mm
Stem: Giant Contact
Seatpost: Giant D-Shape, aluminum
Saddle: Liv Sport
Shifters: Shimano Tiagra, 10-speed
Front Derailleur: NA
Rear Derailleur: Shimano GRX RX400
Brakes: Shimano BR-MT200, hydraulic disc, 180/160mm front/rear
Brake Levers: Shimano BL-MT201
Cassette: Shimano Tiagra, 11-36, 10-speed
Chain: KMC e.10 Sport, e-bike optimized
Crankset: Forged alloy, minimal Q-factor, 42T
Frame: ALUXX SL aluminum
Fork: ALUXX SL aluminum, OverDrive steerer, 12×100 thru-axle
Wheels: Giant eX-2, Tubeless ready, e-bike optimized
Hubs: Giant Performance Tracker Road, sealed bearing
Tires: Kenda Kwick Seven.5 27.5 x 2.40
Carrier: Giant Rack-It MIK
Colors: Rainbow White (Fastroad E+ EX Pro: Black/Black)
Fork: 10 years
Electrical Equipment: 2 years (EnergyPak is 1 year)
Original Equipment Specification: 1 year